July 13, 2006
QBS touted for choosing an engineer
Consulting engineers are urging the public sector to loosen its purse strings when it comes to selecting professional consultants for infrastructure projects.
They want municipalities to adopt the Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) process for selecting professional engineering consultants, published by InfraGuide, instead of the widely used “lowest price bidding” method.
“QBS is a methodology that is more appropriate for procuring professional services.
“Many of the price-based models being used are suited to commodities where expected deliverables are easily defined, unlike engineering, which is a value added service,” explained John Gamble, president, Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO).
InfraGuide’s best practice for selecting a consulting engineer is governed by qualifications rather than cost.
The document outlines a selection process based on training and experience in the field, staff size and availability to do the project.
The process calls for development of the project’s scope and schedule upfront to minimize any potential costly “extras” that may arise later.
“This does not mean that cost is not a consideration; instead, cost is considered in context,” Gamble explained. “Under price-based competitions, consultants are rewarded for putting the least resources into the project, but even worse, firms are penalized that have a better understanding of the project.”
Supporters claim that while a project’s front-end cost may be more than in the case of “low-bidding,” the financial benefits in the long-term would be substantially more.
Gamble says QBS will not only ensure that “the right team gets the right job,” but “it will also improve the understanding of the project outcomes and expectations between the owner and the consultant.”
He added that it would also allow consultants to have the appropriate level of resources to deliver the level of service expected by the client.
Under the “low bid” method, consulting firms with the lowest cost analysis usually win the project, which may not result in best value, agreed Harold Murphy, technical advisor, Decision Making and Investment Planning, InfraGuide.
“What we are suggesting is that clients and consultants together develop a scope of work, then factor in price,” Murphy added.
“This allows for innovation and the life-cycle maintenance of the infrastructure to be taken into account.”
The argument is that costs outlined during the QBS method will be gained back in the long-term life span of the project.
Gamble says QBS will “dramatically affect the lifecycle of the structure because it looks beyond the short-term savings by considering long-term factors, which are usually far more significant.”
The process recognizes that engineering services are an investment in the long-term success and outcome of the project by allowing an opportunity for innovation and quality assurance measures, he explained.
Some form of qualifications-based selection is already practiced in some municipalities in Ontario and some cities in the United States. More recently, the City of London, Ontario, adopted a process consistent with InfraGuide’s best practice.
“We have been supporting the principles contained within this best practice for over a year and have recently utilized the process for a series of eight infrastructure renewal projects,” Peter Steblin, general manager of Environmental & Engineering Services for the City of London, told Daily Commercial News.
“In addition to the various benefits contained in the best practice, the grouping of the projects saved significant time and expense for both the city and the consultants involved.”
Both Gamble and Murphy noted that a qualifications best practice would not have a dramatic financial impact on the cost of the project, since engineering fees are generally only two per cent of the total life-cycle cost of a project.
“Spending money upfront allows the owner to better manage scope changes, and it gives the opportunity to think about what can be done to reduce the operational cost of the asset over the next 40 years,” Gamble explained.
“We owe this opportunity to the taxpayers, but more importantly, we owe it to a whole bunch of taxpayers who have not yet been born; they will have to live with the decisions we make today.”
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